Having worked with adolescents for most of my career I have had to hone my conceptualization and understanding of teaching about, and living in, the world of rights and responsibilities.
What I have noticed is this equation: The greater our opportunity, the better our lives, the more we can provide for our children and do provide – subsequently the more rights are un-linked from responsibilities.
From a sociological perspective it has it’s roots in the ebb and flow of societal comfort and how it plays out in parenting styles.
From the middle 70s on we have been living in a relatively prosperous world, in our country, which allowed us to offer and give more to our children to increase their comfort. This is not to say there aren’t difficulties within families and social problems that need to be addressed – but the overall culture is that our children have had more opportunity to create prosperous lives than was afforded to the generations that preceded them. Yet, the children have a seriously higher incidence of ADHD, depression, Addiction, conduct disorder, and mood disorder diagnoses.
And this is especially true in middle and upper-middle class family systems, more prosperous and more psychiatric diagnosis indicating a lack of focus, a lack of meaning, and sadness.
Children have more material items, more after-school, development activities, and less expectations to give back to the family through chores and family connected expectations.
Parents set up play-dates for their children and structure their days around their child’s activity schedule.
Advertisers target and get out their message directly to children and adolescents – and they do so because this population has buying decision-making power.
They have rights but little to no responsibilities.
And because cultural activity has been changing in this direction for the last 35 years, we now have adults that have grown-up under this culture of unlinked rights without responsibilities. This allows for an ever-increasing expectation of more without any understanding of the actual requirements to create/have.
Now a child has a right to whatever her parent has – an iPhone, a laptop computer, a Wii, a new car, a closet full of clothes and shoes and toys. And these are rights not requiring any linking to the way in which this money comes into the family or how everyday chores and requirements are completed and by whom, no linking to the responsibilities that go with those rights.
Parents who are offering these opportunities to their child with love and caring in their hearts receive something that is surprising to them (although it maybe shouldn’t be); rather than feeling gratitude and caring from their child they are treated like employees of the child.
The concept of respect for parents is diminishing; the concept of respect for elders is diminishing; the concept of community, and give and take is relegated to I take you give, in the child’s behavior. Rather than focusing on creating their way in the world children expect all things and opportunities to be given to them – that they do not need to work hard and delay gratification but rather they require and expect immediate gratification.
If you look at the early part of the 20th century we had to enact laws to stop child exploitation and in years prior to that the children could be used as a way to increase the family income so that the children were treated more like employees with little take and only give.
Obviously these laws were necessary.
But now I wonder if the pendulum hasn’t swung a little too far in the other direction, where children aren’t given the opportunity to learn and create for themselves success tied to their own work and action; if they have been denied the opportunity to understand the importance of knowing the natural order of give and take and the connection of rights and responsibilities. The connection of their actions to their success or failure; and how systems are connected and interrelated.
From a Confucian perspective Yin turns into Yang, and Yang into Yin. Both are needed to create the whole. Increase leads to decrease and decrease leads to increase, this is the natural order of things and for growth to take place and community to be successful all aspects of the community need to participate in the ebb and flow, or give and take of energy, material, support, and work.
Just as the moon waxes and wanes so does our cultural focus shift from one perspective to another.
In a system there is give and take – too much take and the system breaks apart – too much give and the system breaks apart.
Right action is responding to the needs with what is available in a dynamic and clarified way. It is an inside-out, spiritual, energetic, material, psychological, and cognitive process. It is layered and multi-dimensional.
It requires structure, strength and flexibility. It requires mindfulness and the capacity to see figure and ground simultaneously. It requires the ability to flex and stretch and bend, and be stable – seeing into the future through both intuition and rationality while feeling in the moment responsively.
Right action incorporates a sense of rightness without being rigid or angry. It requires surety and sensitivity.
Rights and responsibilities are a weaving, and they are not only individual but connected to small groups, and large communities.
We make a mistake by giving too much. We teach the other to be takers.
The key is to return to balance. Balanced action is right action. Balanced action is present moment not historical, we don’t go back in time to the parents we had that have changed into new beings in the intervening years, and exact a payment for their mistakes – we actively change our perceptions and paradigms in the here and now and create a new world in the present.
In the Jewish tradition there is not an afterlife for which we need to act in a certain way to attain reward. It is not viewed that a reward awaits one – there is only here and now. But there is also reference to heaven or a sense of a new world that can be created.
I believe that new world is the world we create through our children. Our actions do not only affect our small nuclear family they affect everyone we touch, and everyone whom we touch who touches another. Our actions can change the world because we affect the world in this multi-dimensional way through right action.
Knowing this, for me, identifies that rights and responsibilities are intimately and intricately connected, and changing the balance of these affects the balance of the system of our world.
The single most useful thing I believe that I teach the families with whom I work is to connect their children’s rights to responsibilities.
It has been the most helpful thing identified by those families in the work they have done with me.
The successful trilogy is communication, forgiveness, linking rights and responsibilities. These three are different forms of mindfulness.
See you tomorrow.